Will 2014 Become the Year of the Sun in the UK?
By Anne Lewis-Schneider
2013 was a year where much opposition was voiced as far as solar PV farms are concerned with many MPís objecting to having solar farms erected in their constituencies because they feared that it would be an eye-sore and would reduce the value of their properties. There were also cuts in the feed in tariffs which has made it not economically viable to continue with small scale solar installations. It has been announced that changes are going to come into effect from government early in 2014. Stumbling blocks have been raised not only in solar energy but also in offshore wind projects that have been shelved, and the opposition to onshore wind farms being perceived as a visual affront and political vote-loser.
The one source of renewable energy is solar which has the greatest potential to make it possible for government to reach their renewable energy quotas. UKís solar energy initiative has been on the receiving end of cuts that have made it unviable and uneconomical to boot. Opposition to solar farms in rural constituencies has been an area of concern but solar energy is the one option that would get large scale support from investors in the City. A Solar Task Force (STF) has been appointed which consists of members from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and other representatives of the solar industry in an effort to breathe new life into the UKís flailing solar initiative. The STF will be headed by Greg Barker, the Energy Minister, and this has been welcomed by the Renewable Energy Associationís James Beard.
The number of homes that have solar energy is reported to be at the half million mark which will give government reason to celebrate and the initial big solar investments should be announced in January and by the end of March the government should be ready to reveal their New Solar Strategy (NSS) which is hoped will give solar energy the necessary boost that it needs. It would appear that a major area has been totally overlooked in the solar sector and that is the installation of solar PV panels on commercial sites. A big drive will be launched to increase the 20% of commercial businesses that have already installed solar panels and it is hoped to exceed the 45% which is the current figure for domestic applications.
Industrial estates are hardly ever seen by the rural voters and are ideal for solar installations and will not bring on an outcry from the public. The energy produced could be channelled into commercial and industrial businesses which are known to use much electricity during business hours. The DECC would like to see the number of solar panel installations in the business sector increase to at least 33% of Britainís solar energy mix.
STFís Ray Noble says that commercial installations make good sense but that building owners would need to come on board with the idea. Perhaps if the FIT was increased it would be more appealing to businesses that would like to install smaller scale solar projects. The REA would like to see the FIT reductions taken away completely, and businesses with shorter leases than 20 years also being included in the mix. Larger businesses such as Sainsburyís have installed solar panels on 250 of their buildings, but smaller businesses could end up having to deal with major issues. The STF has said that a standard legal agreement needs to be implemented for the protection of both tenant and landlord.
There is room for hope with South Swindon Conservative MP giving his support to a hillside solar farm proposal on a previously used RAF base which is still home to museum pieces from WW2, and little prospect of being used as farming land, near the village of Wroughton. Opposition has been raised by Natural England, who says that it will spoil the view for walkers of the Ridgeway footpaths. The town itself has given the project their support, saying that the feed-in tariffs could be used not only for local supply supplementation, but also for the upkeep and improvement of local town sporting pitches.
Tim Nicholson of REC would like to see bolder measures taken by government and a total re-think on prices paid for excess energy channelled by companies into the National Grid. The current reimbursement is 3.3p per unit whereas the wholesale price of electricity is 5p per unit which is distorting the market according to Tim Nicholson. Solar power looks as if it will get more of a fair shake in 2014 and it is hoped that the combined efforts of the Solar Task Force and Greg Barker will be able to make changes on the scale that is needed.
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